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The Mountainous Task I Faced

“I could’ve died.”

That was the only thought that flashed through my mind as I sat at the back of a small police van with 11 of my friends.

Just two hours ago, my friends and I embarked on a climb of Cape Town’s Lion’s Head Mountain. I’ve never been an adventure buff so I went along with the plans reluctantly.

We were in the tail end of winter and it had been raining even before we started our climb. Decked in only two layers and wearing shorts, I knew it was going to be a challenging climb.

The climb started easy but got progressively harder. From straightforward trails, we had to climb up steps made of logs, a ladder, and even scale the side of the mountain with only chains to hang on to.

The promise of a great view at the top slowly faded away. Soon, we were engulfed by the low-hanging clouds as the wind and rain hit down hard on us.

Eventually, we decided that it was way too tough to carry on the climb and decided to go back down. However, another problem cropped up. Our transport back was waiting at the other side of the mountain and not on the same side as where we came from.

We started the descent slowly down the same way we came up. We knew that there was a specific junction where we had to turn to reach the coach—however, by that time, visibility was a problem, we could barely see beyond five metres.

The turn we took proved more challenging, as signs of soil erosion were evident and directional signs were all washed out. Everyone knew that we were lost and the uncertainty of making it back was real.

It was at this juncture that I started to panic. And in quiet desperation I turned to God in prayer. I called out to Him for help, because there was really no way I could trust myself.

“I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)

Like the psalmist who was on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, the hill must’ve been a difficult climb. But the reminder that God our Creator is our help, places the mountain, in all its grandeur and treachery, under the command of He who made it. It was a surreal thought.

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
Psalm 121:3

Beyond acknowledging that God is all powerful, the assurance that He is ever watchful is doubly amazing.

About an hour into trying to find the coach, we saw a road and made a dash for it. We found a police van that was situated by the road and we were given a good talking to for attempting the climb.

Apparently, the guide in the coach had called the police to search for us. Within an hour, they were going to call in a search and rescue team.

As we sat at the back of the police van, I was reminded of how God had been watching over us the whole time. He graciously provided us a way out in the toughest of all situations. He was faithful even when I was weak.

It is a good reminder to realize that we have a God who never sleeps nor slumbers. He is faithful always and we should be looking to Him at every juncture of our lives.

Don’t wait till you’re lost on a mountain to realize that God is there all the time.

Written by Isaac Tan for YMI

The mountainous task I faced 2

A Passionate Pursuit for the Savior

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I wonder if anyone here has heard this potentially irritating song? First written by The Proclaimers, a Scottish band, it was later on recorded by many artistes, including Steven Curtis Chapman.

The song talks about a guy passionately following someone he wants to spend his life with. So serious was he that he would go to the extent of walking mile after mile just to reach the person’s doorstep.

Likewise, to the Savior whom you have proclaimed your love for, are you passionately pursuing Him?

‘Follow me’
In the book of Matthew, Jesus once uttered two simple words, “Follow me.”

In Jesus’ time, being called a “follower” meant that one was close to his master.

Rabbis then were known as “followers of God”. In return, many men vied to be followers of these rabbis as it was considered a high honor to be close to these holy men.

However, unlike the rabbis, Jesus did not require men to vie for Him—all He sought was their obedience to follow. Simon Peter and Andrew heard the call of Jesus, dropped their nets and followed Him immediately.

The act of dropping their nets was significant because it meant that they gave up their livelihood.

The next step
However, Jesus’ call to follow requires more than merely walking beside Him.

Luke 9 tells of the account when Jesus predicted His death.
passionatepursuit_luke9

Following Jesus thus is a continuous process. It’s a daily affair that those who are His have to take part in.

The Bible instructs us that the first thing to do when following Christ is to deny the flesh, the world and ourselves.
passionatepursuit1john

As Christians the Bible is explicit: We cannot serve two masters. If we are slave to our livelihoods—our self-glory—there will be no room in our hearts for Jesus Christ.

Christ was willing to die to save the lost. His example in death is the basis why those who follow Him must be ready to sacrifice their lives as well.

Following Christ is, to a Christian, an unhindered passionate pursuit, fixing our eyes on Jesus all the way.

But many of us, after following Jesus passionately, fall back to our old ways. Somehow the self-glory we threw away has returned, gleaming brighter than ever. Our passionate pursuit of Christ slows to a jog and soon enough we find ourselves orbiting.

This orbiting behavior can become very dangerous because we can, at will, blur Christ out.

We no longer fix our eyes on Him but stagnate and very soon, we forget Him.

Sin happens when we close our eyes to God. We choose to blur Him out, sometimes on instigation by the devil.

The disciples themselves were not spared of this, especially Peter.

We read John 21 that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the disciples saw Him 3 times. Following the second time, Simon Peter said, “I’m going out to fish,” (John 21: 3a). Peter decided to go back to his old livelihood!

What happened to the Peter who followed Jesus immediately? What happened to the Peter who was filled with remorse after denying Christ?

Surely, he must have made it a point in his heart to never commit the same mistake.

But the Bible tells us Peter went back to fishing. From chasing after Christ, to slowly fading away after Jesus was arrested, to orbiting and waiting for Jesus to come back. Peter decided enough was enough and bailed out.

However, Jesus did not give up on Peter. He knew Peter’s heart’s condition and worked a redemptive work in him, offering him a second chance. Jesus used the same two words to Peter at the close of the chapter.

“Follow me.”

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What a wonderful Savior we have who is so full of grace that though He knows our very weakness, He still works in us nonetheless.

Written By Isaac Tan for YMI

A Soldier’s Journal

By Isaac Tan, Singapore

This is a fully fictional account. All these thoughts are purely generated out of a curious mind to try to understand the mindset of the soldiers as they walked round the city of Jericho. All feelings were based on the author’s personal views on life at large.

Part One:
“It is already the seventh day. I had to wake up extra early today. The sun is just beginning to rise and I know that Joshua is about to come knocking by my tent anytime soon. So I’m just going to rush out a quick journal entry.

The last six days haven’t exactly been the best of days ever since we set camp outside of Jericho. Joshua told us about his brilliant plan. We are to walk around the walls of Jericho for six days and after today it’s supposed to fall. I mean, doesn’t that sound illogical? We aren’t exactly talking about the gates of the sheep pen; it’s the walls of Jericho for crying out loud! How could Joshua expect that by walking around the walls one round for the first six days and seven rounds on the 7th day, these impenetrable walls will just come tumbling down?

Sometimes I don’t know if he is sane at all.

The last six days I had to wake up at dawn, and stand in line with the rest of the fighting men to march around the towering walls. Why did we have to carry our weapons anyway, we weren’t laying siege at all!
At the least, I wasn’t a priest. They had to carry the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. And seven priests with the rams’ horns marched in front of the Ark of the Lord, blowing their horns. What is this all about?

I’m just increasingly skeptical about these things. I mean, yeah, I heard the story of the Lord parting the Red Sea and leading my parents out of Egypt by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And, I tasted the manna that fell from the sky too. But, it just seems that things get more and more out of this world.

Joshua told us that it was the Lord who gave him those instructions and I know that he would never use the Lord’s name in vain. But the walls of Jericho seem too daunting to just come tumbling down with a shout. I trust the Lord yet it doesn’t seem possible at all. Maybe I’ll just do as Joshua says and hopefully the Lord will remain true to destroying the walls.

I’m still very confused.

Oh! Joshua’s calling. Time to get it over and done with. I wonder what would happen.”

Part Two:
“I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to write this down! It happened! The walls fell!

Joshua was right! God really brought the impossible wall down!

We started off walking around the wall for 7 times and at the 7th round, the trumpets were blown, and Joshua said, “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city.”

We did as we were told and the walls came tumbling down, down, down!

Everyone was destroyed except Rahab and her household. Indeed, God has been amazing in showing us once again His marvelous might. He has killed the skeptic in me once and for all.

Having seen how brick by brick Jericho was destroyed, it showed me that God is sovereign in delivering His people no matter how weird He chooses to set it up.

God is certainly an awesome God and though His ways may not be conventional, they are better than my ways. Thanks be to God for His deliverance and may the household of Israel forever shout to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.

I can’t wait to see how God can use me the next time round to do His amazing work once again!

Let the celebrations begin! Promise land, here we come!”

YMI note: Read Joshua 6 for the biblical account.

Till death do us part

Many things that happen in our life are just beyond our finite human minds. This happens so often that quotes like “you win some, you lose some” and “life’s like that” become mere excuses for being blatantly obtuse.

Death is just one of the many topics that receive such “preferential” treatment. People would make every effort to avoid talking about death even if it happens.

I’m no exception.

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I met Jaclyn in 2005 through a mutual friend. She was a Roman Catholic who believed in faithfully serving God to the fullest of her ability. I was certainly amazed at her zeal.

We debated over the phone for hours defending our faith until we just gave up, declaring each other ignorant. We remained acquaintances and chose to not allow religion to break the friendship God gave us.

Over time, communication between us grew thin. In 2007, I received news that Jaclyn was found to have a malignant tumour in her spine. That shocked me. She had to stop her studies and go on intensive chemotherapy to suppress the cancer cells. Even then, the chances of survival were slim.

I prayed continuously for her for a really short time but soon enough I forgot her.

One Sunday morning, as I was preparing for worship, I got a message from our mutual friend. It read, “Jaclyn passed away last night at 12.10 a.m. . . . ” That was enough to stop me in my tracks.

How could she have passed away? Why did God not spare her?

Questions flooded my head and my heart grew heavy.

Just a day before her death, I finished reading Matt and Beth Redman’s book Blessed Be Your Name. The book had spoken about how to cope through the most difficult times. It left me convicted that I would be ready to tide over any tough situations. The account in Job 1 became a motto.

21And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1: 21 – 22 (ESV)

Why did God have to test my conviction?

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Days after her death, I suffered silently. Bitter against reading the book. I rationalized that maybe if I hadn’t read the book, God would have spared her.
Somehow, theoretically, it seemed so possible to proclaim, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” in times of strife. But, in reality, that wasn’t the case. My faith was put to the test.

God reminded me through my quiet time of the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Due to his sin, God punished David by taking the life of his son that was to be born. David fasted and prayed for his dying child (2 Samuel 12:15 – 23).
I felt glimpses of the pain David had and sympathized. But as I read on, David’s response

21Then his servants said to him (David), “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”

22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12: 21 – 23 (ESV)

to the servants after the death of the child was remarkable.

David fasted in the knowledge that God has the ability to both heal the son and even bring him back to life. That understanding was enough for David. God can.

Somehow, as much as the thought stuck with me through the day, it did not make that big an impact. I was still severely bitter and filled with grief.

I went home and sat down thinking hard about how much I missed Jaclyn. I looked in to God’s Word again to seek comfort and I stumbled upon the book of Daniel. I read through Daniel like I would a storybook. However, this time it was different. God’s Word in Daniel 3:8–29 struck me.

King Nebuchadnezzar had threatened Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with their lives if they did not worship him. Yet they stood firm against the king and it was their response that was a real eye-opener for me.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Daniel 2: 16 -18 (ESV)

Once again, the message was spelt out to me clearly: God can and that is good enough.

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego as well as David understood that God was able to do anything and everything but if He did not bring things to pass, as they would have liked, they would still remain faithful to God.

I realized that like David, it wasn’t wrong to mourn or grief in sadness when people pass away. But the greatest thing to remember is the everlasting character of God. The God that I serve was the same God in Genesis, is the same God today, and will be the same God forever. God’s never-changing character was what helped all these people in their times of need. They knew that God could save them and His person was enough to put them at ease in knowing that He works all things good for His namesake.

Tears streamed down my face. I realized my sin. I was simply bitter and telling God that He didn’t know how to do His job. I prayed and asked God for forgiveness and a renewal of my heart to realize the bigger picture He paints.

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Indeed, all that He taught me through this episode has greatly strengthened me to know that He is in control over all things.

As Christians, we need to come to the understanding that our finite minds will never understand the infinite God for all His beauty but we must trust that He always is good. When things don’t go well, praise the Lord. When things go well, praise the Lord. In all things, praise the Lord for He is good all the time.

I thank God for a friend like Jaclyn whose life has indeed left me with an experience that I would never forget. Thanks be to God for all He has done, His love endures forever.

Written By Isaac Tan for YMI